Once Bitten…

[written by author, Louise Morgan]

I remember how this whole vampire thing began.

I was 13. He was… older. He had blond hair and wore an earring and a battered old black coat. Funnily enough, it was the coat I noticed first – well, that and the motorcycle. His name was David.

That summer, the summer I was 13, I watched The Lost Boys more times than I can remember, completely mesmerised. Over and over and over again, until the tape broke (and now I’m showing my age). But by that time, the damage had already been done: I had discovered vampires, and there was no turning back.

Before the rise of the internet, the best I could do to feed my new-found habit was our small local library and combing the late-night TV schedules for something – anything – that might fit the bill. Dracula, vampire anthologies (carrying everything from Carmilla to strange post-modern not-quite-vampire-but-close-enough-to-split-the-difference stories), Varney the Vampire, Hammer Horror, Nosferatu; I devoured them all. And that’s how I came across Near Dark.

Both The Lost Boys and Near Dark were released in 1987, although neither had made it through development unscathed – the former had originally featured child-vampires, making its title even more apt, and it was Joel Schumacher who insisted on turning them into a teenaged bike gang. It’s not subtle, but Schumacher was right and he saved it from straying into Goonies-meets-The Little Vampire [1] territory.

The Lost Boys: Paul, Marco, Dwayne & David

Near Dark, too, began as something different – both director Kathryn Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red had wanted to make a Western, but stumbled instead into the vampire badlands: perhaps this is the reason the ‘v’ word doesn’t exactly get much lip service in the film.

Bearing in mind both essentially have the same central conceit (boy meets girl – boy gets a hell of a lot more than he bargained for) their respective tones could hardly be more different. The Lost Boys is glossy and sharp: brat-pack vampires for the MTV generation, while Near Dark is grittier, more serious and certainly more violent. It’s better characterised, too: take Jesse and Diamondback’s relationship for instance, or Homer’s all-too impotent rage at being trapped in a child’s body.

The thing that struck me the most about these two films – and still strikes me, more than has been the case for any vampire film I’ve seen since – is that the vampires are having fun (or at least, what passes for their idea of fun: you get the feeling Near Dark’s Severen was never less than sociopathic; he looks like he couldn’t possibly be happier than he is ripping open a bartender’s throat, and watch the Lost Boys as they hurtle towards the cliff-edge on their motorbikes). Each respective ‘family’ of vampires relishes being a group of outsiders and they delight in the power they have. There’s a dark glamour to them and their way of life which can only really come from the realm of the fantastic; nowhere is this clearer than in the half-Batcave, half-clubhouse home of the Lost Boys themselves – all clattering chandelier, candles and Jim Morrison posters.

The Lost Boys

Unlike the teen-targeted vampires we’ve seen so much of lately, these guys are dangerous. Neither film skirts around that: all these vampires kill, and they kill on-screen, just to get the point across. But more importantly, they’re cool. No, really. Monstrous, but no less cool for being so. They have to be. How else could we identify with Michael and Caleb as they’re drawn into this world? Viewing the films, it’s clear that however removed from their predecessors these vampires might be, they have kept that vital seductive quality. In The Lost Boys, David brushes aside the horror of an eternity of murder by simply saying: “You’ll never grow old, Michael, and you’ll never die… but you must feed.” It’s a fair price to pay when you put it like that, right?

Bill Paxton as Severen, Near Dark

Looking back, I realise why these were the first vampires I could connect with, the first ones that felt relevant to me. They – and the humans around them – were American, and young(ish). They didn’t mooch about in castles like Lugosi – and while Frank Langella gives good cloak-furl, neither of these had the same appeal or immediacy. The Lost Boys taps into so many of our particularly teenage preoccupations, not least of all the idea of belonging, of being ‘one of us’ – that, like Michael, we’re happily swept along by the tide. Near Dark presents us with a horrible, visceral freedom and a world of possibility… provided we’re gone by dawn.

Watching these vampires, these films, at that age left its mark on me. I’ve seen a lot of vampire films since, ranging from the good (Let The Right One In) to the appalling (step up, Vampires: Los Muertos [2]) to the downright weird (Frostbiten [3]). I’ve found some that I have a lot of affection for – notably The Breed, [4] with its dystopian view of a world where vampires and humans try to coexist – but not one of them has had the same impact as those first two films.

Of course, that certainly won’t stop me from looking…

[1] For the curious, there are several versions of The Little Vampire out there: before the Jonathan Lipnicki 2000 release, there were two separate German TV series – one produced in 1986, and one in 1993/4. All are based on Angela Sommer-Bodenburg’s Little Vampire books.

[2] 2002 follow-up to John Carpenter’s Vampires.

[3] A 2006 Swedish horror-comedy, which sees a town’s population succumbing to vampirism after a group of teenagers take some very strange pills at a party.

[4] 2001 TV movie with Adrian Paul and Bokeem Woodbine as – respectively – vampire & human police, partnered up to solve a series of murders.

About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press. Also cycles, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

8 responses to “Once Bitten…

  • Bertena Varney- Lexington Vampire Examiner

    ohhhh Michael and David… how I longed to be Starr but would have been a “bad” Starr…me and David..ok now get out of my teenage mind there.

    I think we were at the same place.. I saw the old Hammer films and a few late night tv shows and loved vamps..heck I ate Count Chocula from the time I could..lol..but yes these 2 films really pushed me over the edge…they were cool and they didn’t brood and they accepted themselves for who they were.
    I think that that idea helped me out the most.. I knew I was different from other kids and was always looked at weird- smart nerdy girl that was obsessed with monsters and darkness..in a small Eastern KY town population of like 700.

    Lost Boys came out about the time I moved to the “city” lol…and the new idea of being who i wanted to be and being the outside helped me adjust–
    I loves these movies…loved your article…well written – wonderful job.

    and thanks for the wonderful pictures of David in my head as I go to work with a smile on my face:)


  • Raven Dane

    Loved both films! Though I never watch all of Lost Boys, just as far as Michael and the lads are having a good time….


  • Joleene Naylor

    As humiliating as it is to admit, I was in my twenties before I ever saw Lost Boys. I was 7 when it came out and we weren’t allowed to watch “those kind” of movies (in other words, movies my mom didn’t like) But it is a fun one 🙂

    As for the bad vampire movies… There’s a very long list of those, and yes, Vampires: Los Muertos is on it, as is the first one John Carpenter’s Vampires, I think.


  • Peter Bell

    I watched The Lost Boys for the very first time this week and it confounded my expectations – I wasn’t prepared for the shift from cool, outcast teen drama to The Goonies meets Home Alone. With vampires. It was odd, but I rather enjoyed it!


  • LouMorgan

    Peter: don’t forget the exploding toilet – which is definitely one of the odder things in that film!

    It still impresses me that (despite the hair. The hair! The horror!) The Lost Boys in particular always come across as cool. It can’t be down to the clothes, that’s for sure, but they just have that certain something – even when you see them with what Buffy’s Angel used refer to as his “game face”. It’s quite an achievement.


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